Leicester Fosse And The First World War: Part 17

The story of Adam Black’s outstanding bravery.
In a new 25-part series, Club Historian John Hutchinson investigates the stories behind Leicester Fosse and the First World War. 2014 marked the one hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. 


There were huge losses on both sides of the conflict. Over fifty players from Leicester Fosse Football Club fought in that War. They served in a variety of regiments, including the famous Footballers’ Battalion. Four Fosse players were decorated during the conflict. 


Up until recently, we thought that 11 Leicester Fosse players were killed in this war but recent research by Paul Taylor has revealed a twelfth fatality, whose story will be told later in this series. 

In , John looked at the story of Bernard Vann VC, MC and bar. 


Adam Black was Leicester City’s full back from 1920-1935. His 528 League games for Leicester City is a Club record. He was also a decorated First World War hero. 


Memories of Adam have been kept alive by a collection of artefacts, photographs and documents kept by his grandsons Allister, Adam and Neil Black. 


The collection is now part of the club’s ever expanding Digital Archive. Had it not been for the items in this family collection, the extraordinary events of March 20 and 21st 1918 might have been obscured by the passage of time. In a space of less than 24 hours, Adam won both a Battalion football medal and a Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for gallantry. 


The family possesses a photograph of Adam on the back row of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders 7th Battalion B Company football team. The picture was taken just before the team won the 51st Divisional Cup on the Western Front near Cambrai on March 20 1918. 


The photograph is poignant as several team members were soon to die. This was because the next day, on March 21 1918, the Germans unleashed their massive Ludendorff Offensive. Reference to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental records describe in detail the events of March 21. A tremendous German bombardment opened on the whole British front. 


On Adam’s section of the front, near Moeuvres, the bombardment and gas attack began at 4.50 am and lasted for four and a half hours, heralding the launch of the Ludendorff Offensive, the ultimate object of which was to achieve final victory for the Central Powers. The morning was misty and raw. The old familiar trenches that had been occupied at regular intervals for five months by the 51st Division, took on ‘a weird appearance’ after only a few minutes of bombardment. Shells were falling where none had ever fallen before. 


Direct hits on the Division’s line followed each other in quick succession until the trenches were switchbacked and the sector had become unrecognizable. 


The first hour’s bombardment took a heavy toll on the men. It also destroyed the barbed wire in front of the line making defence extremely difficult. Furthermore it cut all the telephone wires so that communication was seriously interrupted. The enemy then entered the trenches occupied by the 51st Division to the north of the Bapaume-Cambrai Road. 


This advance surrounded some of Adam’s 7th Battalion who were still in their original positions. They were therefore in danger of being cut off as the enemy was now in their rear. 


Meanwhile the Germans had made their way along the Division’s front line using flamethrowers. These inflicted horrible burns on the defending British. Adam was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions that morning. 


A slip of paper signed by his Major-General reads “British Expeditionary Force. Gallantry on Active Service. I wish to congratulate 275883 Cpl A. Black on the gallantry displayed by him on 21 March 1918”. 


The citation for the DCM describes how Adam “bombed out a large portion of a trench captured by the enemy in spite of strenuous opposition. His initiative, leadership and personal gallantry were worthy of the highest praise”. The battalion withdrew during the day and under cover of darkness straggled back through a narrow gap to take up new positions, further west astride the Bapume-Cambrai road. This line was held that day but a further German onslaught on 23 March caused part of the front line to give way. 


Adam’s 7th Division retired to high ground near Betincourt, with men ‘woefully thinned in numbers, tired, dirty, hungry, and thirsty but still game.’ After the War, in 1919, Adam was awarded a gold watch by his hometown in recognition of his bravery. The inscription reads “Corporal Adam Black DCM. From the people of Denny and Dunipace, in appreciation of the honour brought by him to the District. August 1919.” 


This watch, along with Adam’s medals, is now kept at the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental HQ at Stirling Castle. Last October, a party of us from Leicester City Football Club, including Manager Nigel Pearson, Club Ambassador Alan Birchenall and Football Director Andrew Neville visited the site of Adam’s bravery near Moeuvres, not far from Cambrai. 


This visit can be seen in the documentary film “Foxes Remembered: The story of Leicester City and the First World War” which can be viewed .


Images: 


1. Corporal Adam Black, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. 

2. The winners of the 51st Divisional Cup, March 20 1918. Adam is on the right of the back row. 

3. Adam’s engraved silver winners’ medal: B Coy, 7th Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. 

4. Adam’s war medals: (1914-18 War Medal: DCM: 1914-1915 Star: Victory Medal) 

5. Adam’s gallantry acknowledged, March 21 1918. 

6. Adam’s gold watch, presented by his home town Denny and Dunipace, August 1919.

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